The Berkeley Police Department is conducting an internal review into how it investigated the disappearance of a 66-year-old man who went missing for 20 days and eventually turned up at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center — including why a dispatcher may have told a woman who was offering a tip about his whereabouts that he had been found when he had not.
A Berkeley police internal affairs investigator interviewed Rachel Baker last week about her interactions with the missing man, David Boutelle, as well as her calls to the police, she said. Boutelle wandered away from his apartment complex on Durant Avenue on Jan. 4. Two days later, Boutelle turned up on Baker’s porch in the Bateman neighborhood, partially clothed and confused. Baker fed him breakfast and offered to get him help, which he declined.
“He [was] very confused; tells me his name is David and doesn’t want me to call anyone for him,” Baker told Berkeleyside, explaining the timeline of events. “I wrongly assume that he is chronically homeless and that I have done my best to help.”
Boutelle’s younger brother, Jimmy, who lives in the same Durant Avenue housing complex as him, did not tell other family members that David was missing for a week, according to Joseph Minot, the men’s nephew. The family then contacted police and the department put out a Nixle alert with a photo of Boutelle on Jan. 13.
Baker saw the Nixle and, on Jan. 13, called the main Berkeley police number listed on the alert, but a voice recording said the department was closed, she said. She tried again on Jan. 14 and eventually reached a dispatcher.
“I call the number on the Nixle alert and get a long recording, which finally results in a male dispatcher answering,” wrote Baker. “He is rather dismissive, asks me if I personally know David Boutelle and then tells me that he has already been located. So, I figure that’s the end of that.”
Boutelle had not yet been located.
Officer Byron White, a spokesman for the Berkeley Police Department, said the department was “looking into that situation” regarding the dispatcher’s communications.
“If mistakes were made, we will put in place protocols to ensure they do not happen again,” White said by email.
After being notified of Boutelle’s disappearance, Berkeley police searched for him around his neighborhood, “contacted several agencies about his whereabouts, made public notifications through Nixle and social media, requested that the County alert medical agencies through the County’s Reddinet system and contacted Alta Bates Hospital on more than one occasion,” according to White.
Unbeknownst to the police and Boutelle’s family, Boutelle had been brought to Alta Bates on Jan. 7 after another woman in the neighborhood called an ambulance, according to Minot. He was only able to tell hospital officials his first and middle names so he was registered as “David Robert.”
Berkeley police and family members said they contacted Alta Bates looking for Boutelle but were always told he was not registered.
Sutter Health, the non-profit that oversees Alta Bates, declined to comment on the specifics of Boutelle’s case because of its “commitment to patient privacy.” The company put out a statement saying that it works “collaboratively with law enforcement agencies,”and will continue to “identify best practices in these collaborative efforts to support our patients, their families and our partners in law enforcement.“
After Berkeleyside ran an article with a photo of Boutelle on Jan. 21, a social worker at Alta Bates thought the man registered as “David Robert” might be the missing man. She called Minot, whose number was in the article, and suggested his uncle might be there. Minot went to Alta Bates but was not permitted to see Boutelle until the next day. Once he did, he and his uncle immediately recognized one another, he said.
Doctors have diagnosed Boutelle with a brain infection, which explains how he had been losing his memory and had been growing increasingly confused around the time of his disappearance, said Minot. He is now in stable condition and the family is hoping for a full recovery, according to Minot’s wife, Irau Brooks.
Berkeley police have not informed Boutelle’s family that the department is reviewing the case, said Brooks. She said the police were responsive when the family alerted the department about Boutelle’s disappearance. In retrospect, police might have reacted with more urgency but at the time no one realized that Boutelle was ill which made it harder for him to care for himself, she said. It just looked like an adult man had wandered off.
“I don’t want to criticize them (the police),” said Brooks.